These 30 American Colleges Are The Best At Getting And Spending Donation Money

Updated December 13, 2022

Some colleges are incredibly wealthy, while others have to spend carefully. Of their revenue streams, donations, in particular, are a hugely insightful way of assessing what a college is all about. Looking at where a college receives donations from and why can tell you a lot about the school overall. And seeing what a college ... is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Some colleges are incredibly wealthy, while others have to spend carefully. Of their revenue streams, donations, in particular, are a hugely insightful way of assessing what a college is all about. Looking at where a college receives donations from and why can tell you a lot about the school overall. And seeing what a college spends this money on reveals even more about the place you might attend for four or more years. Many people that donate to a college are alumni, have professional interests with the college or have been wowed by the college's graduates. They give their money to colleges because they believe the institutions will use it well. And this article identifies the colleges that get the most of this money and spend it in the best possible ways.

Going to a college with financial support from a range of backers has obvious advantages. The money that they receive goes into new buildings, equipment and all sorts of services that make the college better. But it's not just having the money; it's knowing what to do with it. For that reason, we've constructed this article to be something other than just any other list of colleges that have received huge investments. Instead, we've highlighted colleges that have received significant donation money and have demonstrated that they're putting the money towards something that is beneficial to students.

Who knows, one day, when you're earning lots of money thanks to your degree, you could be in the position to donate to a college and support the next generation of learners. It might sound far-fetched, but many of the people who donate to colleges nowadays never thought they'd be able to give the vast sums that they do.

The information in this article can help with your overall college decision. You're going to be spending a lot of money during your college years. To ensure that this money is well invested, you need to know that your college is spending its money well, too! Even if the colleges below aren't right for you, this list can still help. You can compare the entries with the donations that your college options have received. If they similarly have people voluntarily giving lots of money, then the colleges are surely worth attending!


To determine the colleges that are using their donation money in the best possible ways, we've researched many sources. All of these sources are recent and contain the most up to date information available on the internet. The specific sources are:

Inside Higher Ed, Giving to Colleges Rises by 6.3%:

US News, 10 Universities Where the Most Alumni Donate:

Forbes, 2017 Grateful Grads Index: Top 200 Best-Loved Colleges:

The Chronicle of Higher Education, Major Private Gifts to Higher Education:

11 Huge Gifts Made to Universities by the Super-Rich Over the Past Decade:

The information below compiles a range of information in the sources above, so that you don't have to spend hours trawling through them. Additionally, to make sure that our article is accurate, we've performed our own research into the colleges and looked at statements at what has happened with the monetary donations. Our overall ranking is placed by evidence of the donation having an impact, size of entire donation, alumni donation amount and innovative use of the donation money.

Our results, from 30 to one, are below:

#1 Stanford University Stanford, CA
#2 Columbia University New York City, NY
#3 Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD
#4 Harvard University Cambridge, MA
#5 Dartmouth College Hanover, NH
#6 Cornell University Ithaca, NY
#7 California Institute of Technology Pasadena, CA
#8 University of Washington Seattle, WA
#9 University of California, San Francisco San Francisco, CA
#10 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA

Featured Online Programs

Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.

  1. Stanford University

    Stanford, CA

    Stanford University is one of only two colleges in America to raise over $1 billion in donations overall in 2017, with Harvard being the other. However, the alumni donations are much higher at Stanford when compared to Harvard (as is alumni satisfaction). In 2017, the 10-year median donations per student to Stanford was $30,826. And overall, grads were the 13th most grateful. Unlike Harvard, Stanford has received two $400 million donations to date, with the first happening in 2001 and the second happening in 2016. This latter donation, which was given by the Nike Co-Founder and Chairman Phil Knight, has created the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program, which recruits, "graduate students around the globe to address society's most intractable problems, including poverty and climate change."

  2. Columbia University

    New York City, NY

    This New York City-based college has managed to consistently attract $100 million+ donations. In 2017, it managed to gain the joint highest financial donation ever made to an American college, at over $600 million. And from 2006 to 2017, the Columbia University managed to gain seven $100 million+ donations. The latest such donation occurred in December 2017 and totaled $250 million from Roy and Diana Vagelos. This money will replace needing medical students' loans with full scholarships. Large donations from a select group of alumni, such as Roy Vagelos, have meant that in 2017 Columbia University got a large median donation per graduate compared with its graduation appreciation score. Forbes's ranking states that alumni are only the 52nd most grateful for Columbia's education, but that the average 10-year alumni donation amount per student is $20,708.

  3. Johns Hopkins University

    Baltimore, MD

    Former New York City mayor and finance industry innovator Michael Bloomberg is a strong patron of Johns Hopkins University. The Street notes that his $350 million donation to the college in 2013 meant that he has now given over $1 billion to the college to date. The source also points out that this makes Bloomberg the most generous donor to a college who is still alive. However, The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that since this donation, Bloomberg gave the college an additional $300 million in 2016. The money that Bloomberg has given to Johns Hopkins University has led to the construction of, "a physics building, a school of public health, a children's hospital, a stem-cell research institute, a malaria institute and a library wing […] and has financed 20 percent of all need-based financial aid grants to undergraduates." As you may have predicted, Michael Bloomberg is himself an alumnus of the college and is incredibly grateful for the education the college gave him. When the entire donations to Johns Hopkins University in 2017 are combined, the total figure is $636 million.

  4. Harvard University

    Cambridge, MA

    When it comes to overall funds raised through donations, Harvard University comes out on top. Inside Higher Ed reports that the total sum donated to this Ivy League college in 2017 stood at $1.28 billion. However, the other methodology sources show that where this money comes from is what makes the college stand out. Alumni of Harvard is not as keen as giving to their institution as some, Forbes reveals. In 2017, the college was the 26th most appreciated by grads and received $25,122 in 10-year median donations per student. But in terms of major monetary gifts to the college, Chronicle of Higher Education reports that its largest one was in 2015 and was of $400 million from John A. Paulson, an alumnus. While this donation received some criticism when announced, there is plenty of evidence that the money is being well invested. The money has gone into expanding Harvard's newest college, the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Specifically, it is funding, "state-of-the-art research and teaching facilities."

  5. Dartmouth College

    Hanover, NH

    When factoring 10-year median donations per student and three-year alumni donation participation together, Forbes considers Dartmouth College to have the most grateful grads in America. While it tops one methodology list, the other lists reveal that the college doesn't have the large scale financial backing that other prestigious colleges receive. Chronicle of Higher Education notes that to date, Dartmouth College has only received two $50 million+ donations. One was for $100 million in 2014, and another was for $50 million in 2009. However, the college is aiming to give its donations a major boost in the coming years. In 2018, it launched the Call to Lead campaign, which aims to raise $3 billion by 2022. This funding will ensure that it can offer need-blind admissions for all students, invest in scientific research, create a leadership program for all students, innovate the campus buildings and much more.

  6. Cornell University

    Ithaca, NY

    In 2017, Cornell University managed to gain the third most overall donations of any college in America, according to Inside Higher Ed. The overall figure stands at $743.5 million. However, median 10-year alumni donations are lower than many other colleges in this list, at $15,267 per student, according to Forbes. Its largest ever donation took place as long ago as 2011 but was for an impressive $350 million. This money came from Atlantic Philanthropies and really helped Cornell take on and teach many more deserving students. It funded a two million square foot graduate science institution in the heart of New York City. This new campus opened in 2017 and is transforming the tech world in the city.

  7. California Institute of Technology

    Pasadena, CA

    Caltech is tied with Columbia University for the largest ever donation to any college in America, at $600 million. However, the Caltech donation was made 16 years before the other college's, in 2001, notes the Chronicle of Higher Education. Caltech certainly owes a lot to Gordon Moore, the alumnus who donated the money to the college. He and his wife Betty have given Caltech several more significant donations in the years since, including a $100 million gift in 2015. It is because of this generosity that Forbes states that on a median level, Caltech received the most donation money per student of any college over the last 10 years, with a median of $53,845. However, when analyzing the percentage of students who actually gave to the college, it reveals that only 19% did so.

  8. University of Washington

    Seattle, WA

    While the Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates did not attend the University of Washington (or even graduate from any college,) the college has been instrumental in his company's success. This is because the college used to allow Gates and the other co-founder, Paul Allen, to conduct personal research and computer programming in its facilities. Additionally, Gates's father earned a law degree from the college. For these reasons, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave $279 million in 2017, which was the largest of many major donations that the foundation has given to the college. This money has gone into funding the activities of the college's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation for an entire decade. Additionally, in 2017, University of Washington had the 12th highest donations of any college in America, at over $553 million.

  9. University of California, San Francisco

    San Francisco, CA

    This college is one of a few on this ranking that does not appear in Forbes's list of the 200 most grateful alumni study. However, it secures its place here due to non-alumni funding. Inside Higher Ed states that the college had $422 million of total donations in 2017. However, in 2018, the college managed to exceed this amount by February with a single donation from the Helen Diller Foundation of $500 million. This money was given to create a new world-class hospital in the Bay Area.

  10. University of Southern California

    Los Angeles, CA

    To date, the two biggest financial donations that the University of Southern California has received were both for the sum of $200 million. And in 2017, it was the American college with the fifth most donations, with over $668 million in total. Many financial donations at the University of Southern California go into supporting health care research and practice. For instance, a $50 million donation led to the foundation of the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience, which is taking on vital issues, such as life-saving drug creation.

By BVS Staff
July 2020

Get prepared for your next steps

Use articles and resources to uncover answers to common questions, get guidance on your goals, and learn about applying to schools.

Discover a program that is right for you.

Explore different options for you based on your degree interests.